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Posted at 1:21 PM ET, 10/12/2010

Study shows deep disparities in funding for schools

By Valerie Strauss

A new study starkly shows deep disparities in the way school districts across the country are funded, a reality that raises big questions about how effective “reforms” can be if they don’t deal with the issue of equity.

The analysis rates the 50 states on funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal effort, and public school coverage. It concludes that only six states are positioned relatively well on all four measures to provide equality of educational opportunity for all children regardless of background, family income, where they live or where they go to school.

The statistical analysis, titled "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card," was done by David G. Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in New Jersey, Bruce Baker of Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, Danielle Farrie, research director of the law center.

Funding alone, of course, cannot guarantee that students will do better in school, but the lack of equal funding makes a mockery of efforts to provide a strong education to all kids.

“Sufficient school funding, fairly distributed to districts to address concentrated poverty, is an essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education in the 50 states,” the report says.

The four measures that were considered in this analysis are separate but interrelated, and must be seen as a whole; the relative success in one or two areas may be misleading. A state with an insufficient funding level is not fairly serving its students, even if the funding is distributed with some progressivity, and a high state effort grade is of little consolation if it still fails to generate a sufficient funding level.

The report discusses the two main elements that strongly influence education cost and funding: decentralization and concentrated student poverty. (It has become axiomatic for many of today’s school “reformers” to dismiss the effects of poverty on student achievement, calling it an excuse, but that stand is, frankly, an excuse for the failure to address the complex issues involving home life and its effect on learning.)

Here are some of the findings of the report (and you can read the entire thing, with state by state rankings, here):

• Six states are positioned relatively well on all four measures: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wyoming.
• Most states have at least one area in which to improve, and many do poorly on the most important indicators from a state policy perspective: State Effort and Funding Distribution.
• Four states receive below-average ratings on each of the four indicators: Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, and North Carolina.

Funding Level
• The national average funding level, adjusted to account for student poverty, regional wage variation, economies of scale, and population density, is $10,123 per pupil.
• Higher funded states predominate in the Northeast (New Jersey, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts), though Wyoming, District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii also have funding levels that exceed the national average by at least 40%.
• The lowest funded states predominate in the South and West – Tennessee, Oklahoma, Idaho, Utah, Mississippi, Arizona and Arkansas have the lowest adjusted state and local revenues per pupil.
• The disparity between the highest and lowest funded states is vast – using our nationally adjusted figures, a student in Tennessee receives about 40% of the funding of a comparable student in Wyoming.

Funding Distribution
• A number of states rank as progressive, including Utah, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Ohio. For example, in Utah a district with 30% students in poverty can be expected to receive over 50% more funding per pupil than a district with no student poverty.
• Some states have a regressive funding system, meaning districts with higher poverty rates actually receive less funding than more well-off districts. These include New Hampshire, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania. In New Hampshire, a district with a 30% poverty rate receives about two-thirds the amount of funding per pupil than a district with no student poverty.

• Delaware, South Dakota, Louisiana and Tennessee allocate the lowest percentage of their economic activity to education (.024 to .028).
• Maine, New Jersey and Vermont allocate the greatest share to education (.048 to .063).
• The resources available to schools are a function of both state effort and state wealth. A state may exert above average effort, but if it has low wealth, it may still have low funding levels (e.g., Mississippi). A state with high wealth may need to exert little effort to generate relatively high funding levels (e.g., Delaware).

• On average, about 87% of students attend public school, and the household income of private school students is two-thirds higher than the household income of public school students.
• In Louisiana, Delaware, and the District of Columbia about 1 in 5 students does not attend public schools, and those students come from significantly higher income households. Private school families have incomes that are three and a half times those of public school families in Washington, D.C.


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 12, 2010; 1:21 PM ET
Categories:  Equity, Research  | Tags:  cost per student, equity, funding report card, how to fund schools, is school funding fair?, report card, research, school funding, school resources  
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You know Valerie, it would be interesting to look at the funding disparities among DCPS schools.

Mary Levy has crunched the numbers, but basically Rhee shifted from a per pupil funding method to the "CSM." This means that certain schools receive up to $3,500 more per child than other schools. Across a school of 400 students, you quickly see some schools with a million dollars more in their budgets than other similarly sized schools.

Of course this creates huge budget surpluses at select schools while others are hobbled.

To be honest, I can't believe the union hasn't hopped on this as a factor in IMPACT ratings, given the extra teachers and support staff that some schools receive. Of course you would also have to factor in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that select PTAs raise to pay staff as well... and I guess none of that is going to happen anytime soon.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | October 12, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

What people really need to know about is disparities BETWEEN THE TWO SIDES OF THE RAIL TRACKS.

My job often takes me to public schools around my city.
Even with no students around, I can always tell a "White school" from a "Black school"
based solely on the facilities available and how well-equipped the school is... its labs, gyms, cafeteria, green space, etc.

Posted by: jewishmother | October 12, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Affluent area children start school nearly a year ahead of their poorer area counterparts. They have more resources at home, have more educated parents, less single parent households, while getting more dollars by funding schools locally. Two thirds of education funding including parochial/private (voucher) should come from the federal government. Missisippi would gain as well as WV and most large cities. The local taxes would be cut with an offset of higher indexed federal education tax. It would ease the burden on retiree homeowners. People like Mayor Bloomberg of NY would have to put up and I think he just might support it doing a good job of improving city schools.

Posted by: jameschirico | October 12, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Would be more interesting if funding were the problem. It isn't. CA has some of the best funded districts and, they STILL can't perform. It is the people NOT the $.

Posted by: illogicbuster | October 12, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

California is recognized nationally, by Ed Week for example, for underfunding our schools very equitably.

That being said, there are still disparities of thousands of dollars per student. Parcel taxes are exacerbating the issue. In poorer districts it's very hard to pass a parcel tax period. In the wealthy districts they can go up to $6,000 per parcel.

As has been said: "Savage Inequalities!"

Posted by: pftpres | October 13, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Ohio progressive?

Most of the school funding comes from property taxes in each district and is restricted to that district, nearly a generation after the courts ruled this inequitable. In response, districts were given the right to put income taxes on the ballot, which helped a few suburban districts, but not much. And the cities compete to offer tax breaks to either attract new industry or keep one that is talking of moving out, so a new industry may attract new workers with families but bring very little money to the schools. (In fact, if you want a tax break in Ohio, just leak a rumor that you are thinking of moving your company--you don't even have to look for a site.)

And the state funding is apportioned based on attendance figures for specific weeks. The schools do their best to get all students in their seats during those periods: pizza parties, contests, etc.

Every election, candidates for the state legislature run on a plank of equalizing school funding, but it never happens.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | October 13, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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